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Heart Disease Health Center

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Recovery After Heart Surgery

After you or someone you love returns home after heart surgery, these are some of the things you should know.

Care of the Incision After Heart Surgery

In order to take proper care of the incision after heart surgery, it is important to:

  • Keep the incision clean and dry.
  • Use only soap and water to cleanse the area.
  • Eat a healthy diet to help healing.

Call the doctor if signs of infection appear. These signs include:

  • Increased drainage or oozing from the incision
  • Opening of the incision line
  • Redness or warmth around the incision
  • Increased body temperature (greater than 101°F or 38°C)

You should also call the doctor if you or your loved one complains or notices that his or her sternum (breast bone) feels like it moves, or if it pops or cracks with movement.

Pain Relief After Heart Surgery

Some muscle or incision discomfort, itching, tightness, and/or numbness along the incision are normal after heart surgery. However, the pain should not be similar to what was experienced before surgery. Patients will be given a prescription for a pain medication before they leave the hospital.

After heart bypass surgery, there may be more pain in the legs than around the chest incision if saphenous veins (leg veins) were used. Walking, daily activities, and time will help to lessen leg discomfort and stiffness.

Driving After Heart Surgery

After heart surgery, the doctor will decide when it's best to resume driving. This usually occurs about four to six weeks after surgery; however, time may be shorter if patients have had minimally invasive surgery. During this time, they may be passengers as often as they like.

Activity After Heart Surgery

The doctor will tell the patient when he is able to return to daily activities after their heart surgery. However, for the first six to eight weeks, the following guidelines are recommended for patients recovering from heart surgery.

  • Gradually increase activity. Household chores can be done, but standing in one place longer than 15 minutes is not recommended.
  • No lifting objects more than 10 pounds.
  • No pushing or pulling heavy objects.
  • Unless restricted by doctor's orders, climbing stairs is allowed; however, climbing up and down stairs several times during the day, especially when the patient first arrives home, is not recommended. When planning activities, try to arrange them so the patient goes downstairs in the morning and back upstairs when it is time for bed.
  • Walk daily. Guidelines for walking will be given to the patient or the caregiver by the doctor or a cardiac rehabilitation specialist upon the patient's return home after heart surgery.

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